There’s a streak of fierce independence in Taylor Bennett, and it’s not because he also happens to be Chance the Rapper’s little brother. The Chicago-based artist has been carving his own lane in the city’s stacked hip-hop community with promising and ebullient full-length projects like 2015’s Broad Shoulders and 2017’s Restoration of an American Idol, started his own record label, Tay Bennett Entertainment, which boasts singer Bianca Shaw and recent signee ZXXK, and came out as bisexual in early 2017. But with his latest effort, the life-affirming six-song EP Be Yourself, which boasts the previously released title track and single “Rock N Roll,” he’s grappling with issues much broader and much deeper than he’s previously touched on.
Rolling Stone met up with Bennett at his downtown Chicago apartment building to talk about the project, working with Young Thug, his experience coming out as bisexual and the power of conversation. Be Yourself is streaming below and be sure to catch Bennett perform on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on July 30.
When did the songs on Be Yourself come together?
I was on a tour when I was supporting my last project Restoration of An American Idol, and I didn’t like where I was. It wasn’t anything about my fans but as a person, I felt I could do more. I was at this place where I didn’t know what to write. I’ve been famous and living in this world and living in the black community for a long time. But I’ve only been living in the LGBTQ community for a year. And to comment and to talk about something freely without obtaining the knowledge about that community is damn near pure evil. I had to take a year to meet people who are also living free and living through their truth.
It also goes back even deeper: I used to go outside all the time, grab my skateboard when my parents would be arguing or whatever, ride around the neighborhood with my headphones on. I’d be listening to stuff like “Hurt Me Soul” by Lupe Fiasco, “Family Business” by Kanye West, and “Hopeful” by Twista – all songs that made me want to rap. And three months ago, that’s how recent it’s been since we started to think about this project – we moved fast – I realized that I needed to make music for kids like me. People need to realize that not all of us have great lives and we all have our own challenges.
When you came out as bisexual last year, were you surprised by the reaction?
I decided to come out before my 21st birthday because I felt like I was going to be a man and not just a man, a grown-ass man. I had felt like I wanted to say who I was and I was so tired of listening to everybody else. It’s the one point of my life that I just decided to be myself. When that tweet came out, a lot of people thought I was hacked. For the first 5 to 10 minutes, I had the option to back out and the only reason I didn’t was that because the love and compassion from my fans. They let me know that I need to be that person for them. A lot of people spend their childhoods running away from who they are. It’s unfortunate but it takes a lot of us to get to be my age or even older, no matter what skin color you are or no matter what sexuality you are, to be like, “This is a big world and I just live in it, but I can play a part in it, too.”
“I still am not the best person. I am not honest all the time. I was about to lie to you, like, right now.”
On the EP’s title track, you mention that people call you homophobic slurs. Do you experience that kind of hate often?
Personally, people might not say that to my face. But as a person, you know the thoughts they might be thinking, and that’s what I meant. Like, the gay kid in school every day that gets bullied, he might not always have to be called faggot, but sometimes he could just feel that walking to his locker. Sometimes you can just walk and feel like you don’t belong, and I know for a fact that there are people out there that have called me a faggot, that have called me gay, or whatever. They’re just words. But you know what all of them saying all that shit about me stirs up? Conversation. And that’s what this project is about. You can’t combat dark with dark. We need to come together.
Conversation is about spreading education but we miss out on those conversations when we let these systematic oppressions like racism, homophobia or economic oppression take hold. We have to communicate. I believe that all these tyrants and bad things in the world are there to stop these conversations. What’s so cool about the project is that it’s B-Y-S, Be Yourself, but it’s really DIY: do it yourself.
An early favorite on the tape is “Better Than You Ever Been.” What was it like working with Young Thug?
Man, Young Thug is one of the nicest guys. He really welcomed me with open arms when I was in Atlanta. I actually got the whole idea for Be Yourself from Jeffery. In the studio, he’s literally one the hardest working people ever. I feel like he played me a thousand tracks that were done and amazing. It was literally like that meme of him and Lil Durk. That’s actually his studio!
You mentioned in a statement that you want the project to serve a roundtable discussion about the world and that “No one is innocent in this conversation & no group of people are at fault for the flaws in our society.” What did you mean by that?
Growing up, especially as a black man in America, it’s about how tough you are, right? How you talk, how you react, if you’re more aggressive than others. At a very young age, we’re taught to be very aggressive and go towards things that we want because we don’t have the fundamental values. I still am not the best person. I am not honest all the time. I was about to lie to you, like, right now. Real shit man. I’ve done some bad things. I’ve seen people do bad things and not said anything. But so have you, and so has everyone. The problem is that people are ashamed to say that they’ve done wrong. When I look deep into myself, when I am myself, and when I’m trying to be the best myself that I can possibly be, that’s what I want to make music about.